One glorious moment that sums up Marc Ó Sé - the greatest of a generation
Last light has been extinguished on the most successful Gaelic football dynasty with retirement of Kerry veteran Marc ó Sé
Published 13/10/2016 | 02:30
There's a sequence in the 59th minute of the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final that Kerry ground out against Monaghan which best encapsulates the authenticity of Marc Ó Sé as one of the greatest modern-day defenders.
Monaghan had put the squeeze on Kerry all afternoon, their brand of physicality putting a spoke in the wheel of the All-Ireland champions' hopes of a more comfortable passage.
Even Declan O'Sullivan's goal couldn't stem the tide of white and blue and, when Monaghan kicked on to lead by a point, Ó Sé found himself in a two-v-one situation against opposing forwards.
Tommy Freeman was one of them and had peeled away to offer himself as a target for a straightforward fist pass over the defender's head.
Ó Sé hedged, however, committing to neither player. When the pass came over him he was able to scramble backwards to get a touch to it, pushing it out far enough to compromise Freeman just enough.
Then came the coup de grace. As Freeman wound up for a shot at close range Ó Sé moved in and managed to get a block and divert for a '45. Danger averted.
Maybe that wasn't the moment that Kerry won the game to keep their back-to-back target on track but it was most certainly the moment they didn't lose it.
That sequence summed everything about Marc who confirmed his retirement in an interview with former colleague and An Ghaeltacht clubmate Dara ó Cinnéide on Raidio na Gaeltachta's 'An Saol ó Dheas' at lunchtime yesterday, just as brothers Darragh and Tomás had done through the same medium before him.
Anticipation was everything. What he lacked in natural bulk he more than made up for with a better sense of timing that just about everyone else.
When he made a block the point of contact was generally down at the kicker's bootlaces. He had that gift.
As Ó Cinnéide put it yesterday, he had a "pickpocket's touch". No one had the instinct to pounce on a bad solo and dispossess quite like him. He brought subtlety and stealth to everything he did.
Ó Sé was at his peak that summer and would finish as Footballer of the Year, uniquely sharing the All-Star stage with both brothers later that year.
To their credit, the trio had done most of the heavy lifting down that home straight against a Monaghan side that had shown no respect for their reputations. But Marc had stuck his neck out further than anyone else.
In testimony as part of the Kerry County Board's package of statements on his retirement issued yesterday, former manager Jack O'Connor mentioned how there was "merit" in the assertion that Marc was too good a footballer to be posted repeatedly at corner-back.
In this or any era there was scarcely a more elegant practitioner in the position. Only Meath's Bob O'Malley could share such status and, fittingly, they are only two corner-backs of the modern era to win individual Footballer of the Year awards. Seamus Moynihan was Kerry full-back when he claimed the accolade in 2000.
Significantly, both O'Connor and current manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, then a member of the squad, referenced the 2006 All-Ireland quarter-final win over Armagh.
Kerry had come into that game under a cloud, their resilience in dealing with Ulster's protagonists really on the line after three successive defeats.
Ó Sé scored two points that day off right and left but it was his second point off his left that revealed the depth of ball skill that he possessed.
With that trademark dummy of his - few forwards could perfect it better - he jinked off his right and calmly curled over off his other side to push Kerry further ahead in a defining second half for that team.
Such a move, even if it was to execute a clearance, became synonymous with him. Opponents saw it coming but always bought it. Like his brothers, his introduction to the Kerry team was tough. Darragh had it hard through 1994 to '96, Tomás has painful memories of '98, while Marc was in the eye of the storm in 2002 when he faced Armagh's Diarmuid Marsden in the All-Ireland final.
But he gained ground quickly, got much tougher and by 2004 he was Kerry's firefighter-in-chief, generally picking up the biggest attacking threat on an opposing team.
"More often than not we could take that as mission accomplished," noted Fitzmaurice yesterday.
O'Connor also paid tribute to that quality. "He often played from the front but had the agility to get back if it went over the top. Marc could defend man-on-man in an era when blanket defences didn't exist," he said.
He might have checked out after 2014 and probably should have after last year. By his own admission that burst of pace he could depend on had receded and he wasn't enjoying it. Still, he makes any 'best team' of the last 30 years comfortably.
His longevity is, of course, a family feature. Uncle Páidí, who he paid a rich tribute to yesterday, and Darragh and Tomás all had careers with Kerry that lasted 15 seasons. When Marc replaced Paul Geaney in the recent All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin, he was making his 88th championship appearance, drawing level with Tomás.
For some time the three brothers were the only footballers to have passed the 80 mark for championship appearances.
When Marc was dropped for the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo in the Gaelic Grounds it was the first time in 101 championship games that none of them would start for Kerry.
In 43 years, since Páidí first joined a Kerry squad ahead of the 1974 season, there have been only four years, between Páidí's retirement in 1989 and Darragh's introduction in 1994, when an Ard an Bhóthair Ó Sé has not been part of a Kerry squad. They set records and then they broke them.
For 24 All-Ireland medals and 17 All-Stars to come out of two households at a small crossroads on one of the most westerly points of the country illustrates the place the Ó Sé family will always hold in Gaelic games.
The term 'end of an era' can be thrown around easily at times but with Marc's departure there is definite closure.
Marc Ó Sé factfile
Club: An Ghaeltacht
Date of birth: April 24, 1980
Occupation: Teacher, CBS Tralee
Championship debut: v Limerick, 2002
Championship appearances: 88 (all-time record shared with brother Tomás)
Championship scores: 0-13
1st League game: v Antrim, 2002
League appearances: 88
Minor experience with Kerry: 1998
U-21 experience with Kerry: 1999, 2000, 2001
5 All-Ireland SFC (2004, '06, '07, '09, '14)
3 National League ('04, '06, '09)
10 Munster SFC ('03, '04, '05, '07, '10, '11, '13, '14, '15, '16)
1 Munster MFC ('98)
1 GAA Player of the Year & Texaco Player of the Year (2007)
3 All-Stars ('06, '07, '11)
1 Munster Club ('03)
3 Kerry County Club Championship ('01, '02, '05)
2 Kerry SFC ('01, '03)